Reconstruction of Surp Giragos Church, Diyarbakir, Turkey

June 10 2010 at 1:41 PM

Reconstruction of Surp Giragos Armenian Church, Diyarbakir, Turkey

Armenian News Network / Groong
June 10, 2010

By Robert Bedrosyan


The Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd in Turkey is the
largest Armenian church in the Middle East and one of the most
important works of Armenian architecture. Although it is seriously
damaged and in ruins for the past several decades, an ambitious
reconstruction project is launched in 2009 by the Armenian Church
Patriarchate in Istanbul through the Foundation Board of Surp Giragos

Before explaining the reconstruction project, a brief history of the
Surp Giragos Armenian Church will be given. According to inscriptions
found in the church walls, the first church was built in 1515-1518,
then repaired in 1722 by Armenian Patriarch Bedros Vartabed. In 1729,
it was rebuilt with an expanded plan by three Armenian architects
Shahin, Sarukhan and Yarem. During the great fire of 1881, it was
completely burnt down, but it was reconstructed again in 1883 to its
present plan, with seven 'khorans' and a huge footprint of more than
15,000 square feet, to serve a large Armenian population in the
region. Its 100 feet high bell tower, with a bell molded by the famed
Zildjians and a large golden cross at the top, was bombarded and
toppled by German/Ottoman cannon fire in 1915 because it was deemed to
be higher than the mosque minarets in the region. After the founding
of the Turkish Republic in 1923, it was used as a state warehouse for
canvas and fabrics for a while, and then, despite sporadic efforts by
the dwindling Armenian community in Diyarbakir, it had been left to
deteriorate and decay until 2009, when a few Armenians born in
Diyarbakir but living in Istanbul, formed a Foundation Board under the
auspices of the Armenian Istanbul Patriarchate, with the goal of
reconstructing the church, as well as to start a legal process to
reclaim title to the significant land holdings originally belonging to
the church.

After several meetings with the public and officials, the Chairman of
the Foundation Board, Vartkes Ergun Ayik, was successful in securing
the cooperation of the local government in Diyarbakir toward approval
of the reconstruction project. As the church is deemed to be a
historic building, the restoration was required to recreate the
original building features and fa├žade. With the support and advice of
prominent architects, the reconstruction plans were prepared, the
required permits obtained, bid tenders called and construction started
in the fall of 2009. The local government has provided not only
cooperation but also partial financial support, as they are convinced
that once this church is reconstructed, it will be a significant
touristic and historic attraction, as well as a testament to the
multi-faith and multi-cultural initiatives in the region. The total
reconstruction budget is about $2.5 million.

It should be noted that out of more than 2500 Armenian churches and
monasteries in existence before 1915, this church is the largest of
the five Armenian churches still left standing in Anatolia. It is
living proof to the existence of a significant presence in this region
until 1915. The Church Foundation Board has uncovered more than 200
land deeds belonging to the church in the Diyarbakir region. Thanks to
relatively improved legislation process in Turkey in recent years, the
Board has successfully reclaimed a few of these deeds and has secured
a steady rental income from the reclaimed properties toward the future
maintenance of the church. Although the legal process to defend the
title for the remaining properties will take several years, the Board
is hopeful of ultimate success.

While there are no Armenians left in Diyarbakir, the Istanbul
Patriarchate and the Board plan to organize tours during Armenian
religious holidays for Armenians from Istanbul and abroad, to visit
the Surp Giragos Church and attend mass by Armenian clergymen
accompanying the tour groups. Unlike one or two churches restored by
the Turkish government and converted to state museums, the Surp
Giragos Church will be the first church restored as an official
Armenian church, by Armenian people for Armenian people. It is
therefore requested that all Armenians worldwide consider financially
supporting this worthy project. To this end, there will be fundraising
activities organized in major Armenian communities in North America
and Europe in the fall of 2010.

For more information regarding the reconstruction project and
fundraising activities, please contact Raffi Bedrosyan at The youtube links
below are from an interview by HaiHorizon TV of Toronto, Canada, with
Vartkes Ergun Ayik, Chairman of the Foundation Board of the Surp
Giragos Church.


Robert Bedrosyan is a civil engineer as well as a concert pianist,
living in Toronto, Canada. For the past several years, proceeds from
his concerts and two CDs have been donated toward the construction of
school, highway, water and gas main projects in Armenia and Karabagh,
in which he participates as a volunteer engineer.

Robert is organizing and promoting fundraising activities worldwide
for the Surp Giragos Church Reconstruction project on behalf of the
Church Foundation Board, which resides in Istanbul, Turkey. He
can be reached at

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